Finding inspiration in Jesus, the Good Shepherd
The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is one that resonates with many people, invoking thoughts of divine care, protection and guidance. In artistic depictions, the good shepherd is typically a figure cradling a lamb on his shoulders and behind his neck. In today’s Gospel, as well as the second reading and responsorial psalm, we hear portions of the scriptural inspiration for such religious art. As we journey through the Easter season, the image of Jesus as the good shepherd offers us an opportunity for prayer and reflection and a model for care for one another.
“My sheep hear my voice” (Jn 10:27).
What can you do to protect vulnerable people in the world?
Do you find comfort in the image of Jesus as the good shepherd?
Do you feel called to lead?
In the Gospel from John, Jesus addresses his followers and larger community. Within the larger Gospel context, Jesus had recently declared himself the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. He also says that he is the gate to protect his sheep. The language of giving his life is a clear allusion to his crucifixion, and he prepares his disciples to interpret his forthcoming suffering as an act of love.
The metaphor of Jesus as shepherd and his followers as sheep also offers a framework for their relationship. His followers (sheep) rely on Jesus (shepherd) to keep them safe and to lead them throughout life. Jesus takes on this title to affirm his protection and support of those who believe in him, and he articulates the results of this relationship: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”
Shepherd and sheep imagery is prominent elsewhere in Scripture. In Matthew and Luke, the parable of the shepherd searching for a lost sheep serves as a metaphor for God searching and rejoicing when people repent and turn away from sin. The second reading from Revelation offers a visual depiction that mixes a few metaphors: Jesus as sacrificial lamb and also Jesus as shepherd who guides believers to eternal life. In the responsorial psalm, we hear a song calling on a community to worship and praise God for tending to God’s people, to the flock. The language echoes what we read in last Sunday’s Gospel when Jesus tells Peter that as a leader he should “Feed my lambs; Tend my sheep; Feed my sheep.”
So, what can we gather from this language of shepherd and sheep? The association with Jesus as the shepherd is obviously attractive and compelling, affirming that Jesus takes responsibility for those who are under his care. His life, ministry, death and resurrection are all examples of his shepherding, both protecting and leading those who follow him. In light of last Sunday’s Gospel, we are also reminded that we are all supposed to like the good shepherd, tending to the needs of our community and protecting those who are most vulnerable. We should pray in thanksgiving, as the psalmist reminds us, that God is our shepherd. Yet we must also act as a shepherd in the world, leading and responding to the needs of others.